Let me start this article by asking you a simple question, look at these pictures: Who do you think suffers with depression?
The image on left is me about to go on holiday, the image on the right is one of the first images that popped up when I Googled ‘what does depression look like’, and therein lies one of the biggest challenges we face with breaking down barriers to mental illness - depression doesn’t have a ‘face’, it isn’t obvious to the naked eye, it covers any race, religion, class, age and sex and is unique for everyone.
Depression isn’t a choice and doesn’t just affect people who have had a life-changing event; it can strike anyone, at any time in their lives and with one in six adults in the UK suffering from depression it is becoming increasingly common.
How do I know this? – well, I was diagnosed 10 years ago with severe depression and 10 years later it remains a part of who I am. I have good days and I have bad days (and sometimes I have hideous days but either those are getting rarer or I am managing them better). I hope that by sharing my story others will feel it is acceptable to talk about depression freely and give those suffering in silence the confidence to speak and see that depression doesn’t need to define, own or hinder you.
Let me start by saying that on paper my life is perfect: a very happy upbringing, a loving and immensely close family, a (super-hot) ever patient husband, healthy, a successful career and a beautiful home (complete with our gorgeous four-legged little boy Rolo ). And yet a heavy cloud continues to hang over my head. Some days I am super paranoid and worry about what people think of me or if they are judging me, other days I simply can’t get out of bed – my body is either too heavy from the weight of the cloud or I’ve spent most of the night wide awake, replaying all sorts of things over and over.
10 years ago I had somewhat of a mental breakdown although I didn’t know it at the time. I was at the doctor explaining for the third time that month why I wasn’t feeling ‘right’ - after all how else could you describe chronic fatigue, crying all the time, a low mood, zero energy, irritableness, super defensive, unexplained aches and pains and generally not wanting to talk to a human being of any kind? (which for me is very out of character, I’m a strong, bubbly and positive person by nature). The GP asked me some general questions and then asked me to fill out a questionnaire, the questions made no sense to me and I thought I was being fobbed off yet again.
It turns out these questions would shape the rest of my life.
My GP explained that he thought I had depression and we began to talk – the next 15 mins were a huge relief and an emotional outpouring, I had bottled up so much and had no idea what was driving these emotions and dark thoughts I had had for so long.
Treatment is very personal and some things work for some and not for others. I tried CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and couldn’t connect with it. A mixture of regular exercise, talking therapy, medication, eating well, an incredibly supportive family and reading seems to work best for me (as well as kicking smoking 5 years ago – this was the best thing I ever did!).
So here I am 10 years on, my illness hasn’t defined me - I simply refused to let it, but I have to accept it is a part of me. It is simply a chemical imbalance in the brain which I cannot control I have, but I can control how I manage it.
Work can be challenging sometimes, I’ve always been highly ambitious go-getter, climbing the dizzy heights of the career ladder from a young age. However when you create this strong high performance reputation it can be hard to live up to when those dark days hit; I’ve had two hours of sleep, exhausted and need to be on my A+ game giving a presentation or that I am having a highly emotional day and anyone/anything could set off tears or trigger an emotional reaction.
Equally bad are those days when I have zero self-confidence and I overanalyze what everyone else says or does as I worry what they think of me, it’s almost paranoia – those are the tough days, those are the times I need to just accept and push through as tomorrow will be better. Thankfully this isn’t a daily thing, but when it hits, it’s like a truck coming at me at 100mph. Fear of failure is ever present.
It has been a journey, especially for my husband and family. Living with someone who has depression isn’t easy, in fact it’s downright hard work. Businesses and doctors now take it seriously and realise it has to be understood and treated with respect. Mental health is no longer a taboo subject and it is generally accepted, but more can and should be done to support those living with or managing someone who has depression. It is hard to understand if you don’t have it and the constant mood changes can really be challenging if you don’t know how to deal with it. Thankfully I am lucky, my family, friends, work and husband have all taken the time to learn about depression and understand how to support me.
So, my parting words to you; depression isn’t something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It’s an illness just like Asthma. To those suffering in silence – feel you can speak up and remember you are never alone and there is always light at the end of tunnel.
So – the face of depression? Well, it can be “bright and bubbly”, “strong and ambitious” or downright dreadful but either way I have a huge amount to be thankful for and have a bright future ahead of me.
Here’s some helpful links and some of my fav articles: